AT SENATE HEARING, MURPHY PRESSES ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS ON NEED TO WEAR A MASK, IMPORTANCE OF GLOBAL HEALTH FUNDING

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on Tuesday pressed White House Coronavirus Task Force members on the need to wear a mask and the importance of working with international partners to combat COVID-19. Murphy specifically asked Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield, and Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Brett Giroir, MD, about President Trump’s comments discouraging people from wearing masks despite recommendations from the Task Force, and how we can better prepare ourselves to combat the next global public health crisis by working with international partners through the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to find and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine and prepare for the next pandemic.

On President Trump discouraging people from wearing masks despite recommendations from the White House Task Force, Murphy said: “And so, you can understand why folks are confused out there. They hear the recommendations from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield, but then they hear the president of the United States criticizing a reporter for wearing a mask because that reporter is being politically correct. That's why we're in the position we're in today where you see large numbers of people not complying with recommendations. Because they're hearing something very different from the chief executive and they're watching him behave in a manner and encourage behavior that is directly contrary to what we're being told today.”

Murphy also asked Dr. Redfield why the United States is not working with international partners like CEPI on a vaccine: “And so, Dr. Redfield, what is your understanding of why the United States has not joined the global vaccine effort? Why are we not in something like CEPI, an organization that is working with other nations to try to coordinate not only the development of the vaccine, but also the distribution of the vaccine?”

Murphy then went on to stress the danger of the United States pulling out of the WHO, and pressed Admiral Giroir, who last month was confirmed by the Senate for a seat on the WHO’s Executive Board, for details on this disastrous decision by the administration: “And so have you been recalled from the WHO? Are you attending meetings? Are you participating? What are the details surrounding our withdrawal from the WHO which, by the way, is maybe one of the most dangerous things in my opinion that the administration has done in the middle of a global pandemic. What's our status and what's your status as a confirmed member of that board?”

Last month, Murphy along with the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Global Health Security and Diplomacy Act (GHSDA), legislation to better detect, deter, and contain infectious disease outbreaks overseas before they become global pandemics.

Full transcript of Murphy’s question and answer with the witnesses is below:

MURPHY: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

“Mr. Chairman, if this were the policy of the United States of America, the recommendations and guidelines being given by our panelists today, we would likely not be in the situation we are, with a virus back on the march spreading at rapid rates throughout big parts of the country. The problem is, our four panelists do not set the policy of the United States of America, the president of the United States does.

“And so while our panelists tell us about the importance of wearing masks, the president of the United States is retweeting articles, for example, entitled ‘Mandatory Masks Aren't About Safety, They're About Social Control.’ He retweets people that are criticizing how folks look when they wear masks. Though our panelists today are telling us about the effectiveness of social distancing, the president of the United States is holding rallies all across the country in which he deliberately prevents people from distancing. His staff rip signs off of chairs, encouraging people to separate from each other.

“The president’s allies are out there on TV every day, saying that wearing masks are dehumanizing. Somebody said the other day, a Member of the House, that ‘viruses do what viruses do, the only way you're going to get immunity is to get exposed.’ These are the president's allies trying to curry favor with him.

“And so we have these two parallel messaging operations. And I just think it's worth stipulating that everything we're hearing today is responsible, is based on evidence. But the agencies represented here today have social media followings of about 5 million people. The president of the United States has a social media following of 82 million.

“And so, you can understand why folks are confused out there. They hear the recommendations from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield, but then they hear the president of the United States criticizing a reporter for wearing a mask because that reporter is being politically correct. That's why we're in the position we're in today where you see large numbers of people not complying with recommendations. Because they're hearing something very different from the chief executive and they're watching him behave in a manner and encourage behavior that is directly contrary to what we're being told today. And it just probably requires saying that out loud at this hearing.

“Let me ask a few questions, Mr. Chairman, if I can about global public health because we haven't covered that here today.

“Dr. Fauci, this virus got here really quickly. And what we learned is that while travel restrictions can help or give you time, they can't fully prevent a disease from arriving here. And so even if we do turn the corner in the United States in a meaningful way, so long as this virus exists in large quantities outside of the United States, we are still vulnerable. Is that right?”

FAUCI: “That's correct, sir.

MURPHY: “And so, Dr. Redfield, what is your understanding of why the United States has not joined the global vaccine effort? Why are we not in something like CEPI, an organization that is working with other nations to try to coordinate not only the development of the vaccine, but also the distribution of the vaccine?”

REDFIELD: “Well, I think the U.S. has obviously developed an aggressive, comprehensive program, but Senator, it wouldn't preclude being part of these international organizations also, from my perspective.“ 

MURPHY: “We have legislation pending right now before the Foreign Relations Committee that would put the United States into these global vaccine efforts. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to many of us on both sides of the aisle as to why the Trump administration has not joined.

“And finally, Admiral, just maybe help us understand what our relationship with the WHO is today. Right around the time that the President declared that we were pulling out of the WHO, not just that we were not going to fund it, but his announcement was actually that we were going to sever our relationship with the WHO, you were confirmed to a seat on the executive board.

“And so have you been recalled from the WHO? Are you attending meetings? Are you participating? What are the details surrounding our withdrawal from the WHO which, by the way, is maybe one of the most dangerous things in my opinion that the administration has done in the middle of a global pandemic. What's our status and what's your status as a confirmed member of that board?”

ADMIRAL GIROIR: “So thank you, Senator. And I really do appreciate the confirmation. I was confirmed on May 7th, and I did attend the executive board on May 22nd. The executive board, it was virtual. I did participate and support our multilateral commitments.

“I have not been recalled. I have not been given any direction to recall myself in any way. There would be another executive board meeting probably in October. And I believe all of us on our public health standards still work with the WHO, as a WHO partner. For example, we participated with WHO on a global sickle cell meeting just two days ago. So we work, we certainly work with the public health aspects, direction on the official, whether we're going to be a member or whether I'm not going to go the executive board. I have not gotten that direction yet.”

MURPHY: “Okay. Thank you. The announcement was that we’re terminating our relationship to WHO so probably some additional clarification would be helpful. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

###